THE new year has begun with a meeting of the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London, and with another United…
The intervention of the Chinese Communists in the Korean war has faced the United Nations with the necessity of making grave decisions on a matter about which its members—even excluding the Soviet bloc—are far from united. Most troubling of all for hopes of concerted action is the fact that the British Foreign Office sees the problem in a rather different light from the American State Department, to say nothing of certain members of Congress. Some Americans have been ready to raise accusations of “appeasement” against the British government. These charges, George Lichtheim says, are unjustified, and he here indicates the possible lines on which a unified Far Eastern policy may yet be established.
The new year has begun with a meeting of the British Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London, and with another United Nations retreat in Korea. The two events have an important bearing on one another. The British Commonwealth is now very largely an Asian affair, and India in particular has been exercising pressure upon the other members not to get involved in any kind of full-scale conflict, declared or undeclared, with China. This attitude has been confirmed rather than shaken by the latest military events in Korea. The Prime Ministers of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, South Africa, and Southern Rhodesia, who met at No. 10 Downing Street in the first half of January, had before them what amounted to a choice between going along with the United States in possibly deepening the conflict with China, or adopting a line which would localize the Korean struggle and gradually bring it to an end. The indications are that they have decided to choose the latter course, even though they may vote for harmless “sanctions” at the UN.
In this attitude, India’s influence plays at least as big a part as the inevitable tendency of the British government to treat the European theater as paramount There are influential organs of opinion in this country—the Economist is one of them—that favor the American viewpoint, i. e. that of the State Department. Those belonging to this school have on occasions voiced criticism of what they regard as signs of European parochialism on the part of the British government. But even these critics do not deny that Britain must march in step with the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth, for our present purpose, means India and Australia.
The Indian attitude is well known. As regards Australia, it has been stated on very good authority that the Australian government has offered to send troops to the Middle East, even as far as the Suez Canal, but will not on any condition become more deeply involved in the Pacific theater. Australia did send one battalion of troops to Korea, has steadily refused to send any more, and is now engaged upon a very moderate expansion of its armed forces—the aim being a regular army of 19,000, a total regular force of 46,000, and a militia of 50,000—for the sole purpose of home defense, plus the dispatch of token forces to the Middle East, if necessary. The Australian government also continues to oppose the rearming of Japan, incidentally without incurring any of the (frequently violent) criticism in the American press which has been the lot of Britain since the Labor government came into office. Commonwealth opinion, therefore, is behind the British attitude at the UN, and frequently in advance of it This does not mean that all the Commonwealth governments have recognized the Peking regime or favor its entry into the UN—some have not and do not (South Africa is an example). It does mean that all are equally determined to avoid a full-scale war with China, and that is what counts at the moment.
Plain speaking on this issue is the more necessary because Britain is being made the whipping boy for what is called “appeasement” but is better described as “disengagement.” The present muddle in the UN is compounded of two different sets of disagreements: on strategy and on policy. There is disagreement over the military means to be adopted if China embarks on further aggression, and there is disagreement over the admission of Peking to the UN. The latter issue, however, seems gradually to be losing importance, as it becomes obvious that the Chinese are not trying to force their way into the UN, but have substantially adopted the view that the UN itself is the enemy. This change has weakened Nehru’s plea for what might genuinely be called appeasement, i. e., making China a present of UN membership at a time when her armies are busy “liberating” other countries. It does not affect the British view that the conflict must be localized, even at the cost of losing face.
It is felt here that the UN discharged its moral obligations when it organized the “police action” in Korea. (Whether the management was up to the job is another question.) There is no moral disgrace in having been defeated, though it is disgraceful that defeat was helped along by the alternately halfhearted and adventurous conduct of the campaign—for example, crossing the 38th Parallel without having decided what to do if China should intervene. If the Chinese should try to capitalize on their victory in Korea by advancing into the rest of Southeast Asia, they will have to be fought, but there seems to be no point in formally declaring war on them, or even solemnly branding them as aggressors, in advance of such action. It is arguable that the risk of the war with China should have been faced, and an ultimatum delivered to Peking, before the Chinese army crossed from Manchuria into Korea, i. e. in October. But that is water over the dam. So, in all probability, is the argument that formal recognition of China by the United States a year ago, and admission of the Peking government to the UN, might have averted the Korean disaster. Very likely it would have. Very likely the Kremlin launched the Korean campaign last June in order to forestall just such a development. But it is too late now to make good these mistakes.
The British line, therefore, is one of firmness without provocation. Keeping the war undeclared and localized as long as possible is regarded here as a dictate of ordinary prudence. The Chinese revolution is now in the first great phase of expansion which generally follows an internal upheaval. London’s policy from the start has been a judicious mixture of firmness and conciliation. The accent will from now on have to be on firmness, but conciliation should never be ruled out. It is hoped here that the United States will adopt a similar line, and will not be deflected from it by internal domestic pressures—especially since most of these pressures come from groups which couple their adventurism in the Orient with a stiff dose of isolationism where Europe is concerned.
The Korean war undoubtedly brought to light important differences, not only between the British Commonwealth viewpoint and that of the Republican opposition in the United States, but between the British and American governments as well. It might be stressed that this difference has nothing to do with the curious notion, said to have been held by some influential Americans at one time, that the Peking regime is not really Communist. The British, who never idolized Chiang Kai-shek, indeed who never took him and his regime very seriously, have never on the other hand mistaken Mao Tse-tung for anything but a Communist. Where they differ from many informed Americans is with regard to the “authentic” character of Chinese, and Asian, nationalism—even where it takes a Communist form. There is no disposition in London, as there seems to be in Washington, to draw artificial distinctions between “Communism” as such and “nationalism” as such; there is far too much evidence that all national-revolutionary movements at present are liable to develop a Communist wing, so that the real dividing line runs between those nationalists who follow the Soviet pattern and those who do not. The fact that the Chinese nationalist revolution is now in a Communist phase does not, in British eyes, render the present regime any less genuinely Chinese than was the Manchu dynasty.
It makes a considerable difference, even to your tactics, if you regard Communism as in opposition to nationalism, or if you regard it as one of the forms which revolutionary nationalism in Asia at present tends to take. To most leading Britons—Conservatives included—there is little to choose between the attitude of the Truman administration and that of the Republican opposition. (Even so orthodox a Tory as Professor Keith Feiling—Chamberlain’s biographer and the leading Conservative among British historians—has flatly condemned the Allied retention of Formosa, and the support given to Chiang Kaishek, as immoral as well as inexpedient.) And one of the more entertaining by-products of the Attlee-Truman conference was the surprise of the British on being confronted by a Mr. Acheson quite unlike the “appeaser” of the Peking government that his domestic critics had represented him to be. The British regard the Chinese revolution as a synthesis of both nationalist and Communist elements, and while they naturally hope that the synthesis won’t last, they are prepared to reckon with it as, at worst, a permanent factor in the new Asia. All of which seems rather remote from the present American viewpoint upon the subject.
It is easy to underestimate the significance of these Anglo-American differences. Most of them can be temporarily smoothed over, and some have already become less noticeable with the apparent lessening of General MacArthur’s influence in Washington. But the real divergence remains under the surface, untouched by the rise and fall of public excitement over Korea or by sectional pressures in both London and Washington. The British “China Lobby,” unlike its American counterpart, is pacifist and favors admission of the Peking regime into the UN; but Hong Kong, whatever the Hearst press may say to the contrary, counts for much less in British policy than does the greater stolidity of the British, their dislike of military adventures on the Asiatic mainland, and the empirical cast of mind which eschews arguments starting from some abstract premise about totalitarian regimes in general. Britain has no emotional stake in China and finds it difficult to sympathize with the American disappointment over the failure of Chiang Kai-shek’s regime; it suspects missionary influence behind much of the outcry. Finally, where the Far East is concerned, Whitehall is just as anxious to keep in step with India as with the United States. And “India” in this context means the Anglicized intelligentsia, which—for all its “neutralism” as between Russia and the West—is the country’s only hope and, incidentally, its governing class. What else can it mean? In the East, revolutions are led by the intelligentsia. American journals and politicians who deride Nehru give proof of no great discernment, to put it mildly.
Until the Korean war, British governmental opinion had been content to treat the neighboring existence of Communist China and non-Communist India as an opportunity for the West to prove the superiority of its own techniques over those of a Soviet regime. This attitude still persists, though long-term planning has naturally been pushed somewhat into the background: it is a question now whether the ambitious six-year development plan adopted at the conference of British Commonwealth statesmen last September-October in Colombo, Ceylon, will get a chance to bear fruit.
Under the plan, which comes into effect next July, India and the other Southeast Asian countries—though Burma and Indonesia only sent observers and are not formally associated with the decisions—are to undertake a capital investment program costing over five billion dollars, a large part of which is to be provided by foreign loans and grants, including releases of blocked sterling funds in London. Although falling short of the goals originally set by some of the governments concerned—India, for example, had worked out projects costing almost twice the amount allotted to her under the plan—this program has evoked considerable hope, and will certainly have to be pushed forward regardless of military expenditures, since its main object is a vital one: to improve Asia’s shockingly inadequate food supply.
The official report, published at the end of 1950, on what is known as the Colombo Plan, gives an inkling of the problem’s size by pointing out that the population of Southeast Asia is likely to grow by 150 million between now and 1970. This figure takes in India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, Thailand, Indo-China, and Indonesia. Concurrent with this population growth, standards of living have been falling in all these countries (except Malaya and Thailand) for the past several decades, probably for half a century. This brute fact, hitherto known only to readers of such specialized works as J. S. Furnivall’s Colonial Policy and Practice(Cambridge, 1948), is now proclaimed to the whole world on the authority of the British government. The report minces no words on the subject:
The necessary statistical data do not exist for a reliable estimate of the extent to which production is keeping pace with population growth in South and Southeast Asia, but it is highly probable that the events of the last ten years have caused production to deteriorate. As far as the land is concerned, this is not a new process, for in undivided India agricultural yields per acre had been falling before 1939. While the area under rice rose slightly from an average of 66 million acres in 1914-19 to an average of 69 million acres in 1934-39, the average yearly production of rice actually fell from 27 to 25 million tons.
What is true of India is true, more or less, of the whole area. Oddly enough, Thailand (Siam), the only country in the region which never lost its independence, is not affected by the general adverse trend. On this subject, as well as on the relative success of Japan’s industrialization compared with the experiences of other, foreign-dominated Asian countries, the report is tactfully silent. On the other hand, the experts of the assembled Commonwealth governments were quite explicit about the seriousness of the actual situation:
From such information as is available, it appears that the average income per head in most of South and Southeast Asia ranges around £20, whereas in the United Kingdom it is over ten times as large, and in the United States it approaches £400.
By far the largest element of national income . . . is derived from agriculture, which in all the countries provides the livelihood for more than half, and in some for as much as 80 per cent, of the population. The heart of the problem is the under-employment which results from the pressure of population on the land. In Ceylon, for example, there are nearly 1,200 people who depend upon agriculture for every 1,000 acres of cultivated land. This contrasts with about 60 in Great Britain.
The human and material resources of the area are large enough to solve its problems. But if they are not brought into effective use, the position will become worse. Even the present inadequate standards of nutrition will not be maintained, for the pressure of increasing populations will bring them still lower. . . .
These are the commonplaces of Asian politics. The Lucknow conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations last October, which fell into the midst of the Colombo deliberations (and of the Korean war), had these commonplaces all spread out by speakers from a dozen Asian countries, for the benefit of the American, British, and Australian delegates present. At the end, the Manchester Guardian correspondent summed up the consensus of opinion as follows:
Political stability is brittle, since it needs for its survival a satisfactory economy, but the economies are being drowned in a flood of new-born children, and except in Siam and Malaya the standard of life has been declining all over monsoon Asia. The population increases at one and a quarter per cent yearly, but production in India and Pakistan is roughly pre-war and in much of Southeast Asia still ten per cent below. The standard of living creeps steadily down, exports are cut, imports controlled, and people’s hopes for the promised Welfare State dwindle. The common man loses faith.
It is against this background that London has to view the Asian problem.
This set of concrete problems contrasts bizarrely with the type of thinking hitherto common in the West, in which the “abolition of imperialism” or its benevolent continuance were seen as the definitive answers to the “colonial question.” Actually the “abolition of imperialism” is as little a solution for Asia as is the simple re-imposition of foreign domination—no matter how well-intentioned. Indeed, the issue in Asia is no longer imperialism, a corpse flogged by some and lamented by others. The delay in recognizing this fact is a consequence of the 19th-century preoccupation with political independence. In terms of British party politics—and the Americans have taken over the relevant terminology from the British, chiefly from the Radical school of British thought—the Conservative party was imperialist because it denied the ability of Indian and other nationalists to replace the British Raj. The Liberal party’s claim to anti-imperialist consistency—never fully established, since the party contained an imperialist wing—was derived from its being committed to the principle of self-government, not at some time in the distant future, but at the earliest possible moment. What was called “liberal imperialism” represented a compromise between the traditional Tory attitude and the Radical rejection of imperialism as evil and retrograde. The latter view was held only by a small minority of Liberals, its most distinguished theorist being J. A. Hobson, from whose writings Lenin freely cribbed when he wrote his pamphlet Imperialism, during the First World War. The essence of Hobson’s argument was that imperialism harmed the backward countries without benefiting the imperial metropolis, save for some favored financial groups and their political supporters. When the Labor party came to the fore, it substantially adopted Hobson’s view, at least with regard to India, which is the main reason why the Indian settlement of 1947 was possible. But even Labor contented itself with the belief that self-government would cure all evils. That the new liberal-national governments of India, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Burma would have to meet an entirely fresh revolutionary challenge was not foreseen by anyone.
It is important to realize that the controversy which raged around the subject of imperialism in Britain from about 1900 onwards was more concerned with the actual or supposed benefits of self-government to formerly backward countries than with their ability to modernize themselves once independence was given. Indeed it was frequently assumed that independence would come only after modernization had been carried through by the occupying power. Because Britain was modernizing India, its rule was held to be progressive. That was the essence of the liberal-imperialist case. With some modification it may also be said to have been the view of Marx, as his articles in the New York Tribune, written in the 1850’s, show. Within limits it proved correct, but the limits are now becoming apparent. Indian independence was the great achievement of liberal imperialism, but it was also its tombstone, for the new India is racked by social tensions which neither its present leaders nor the British had adequately taken into account. India could go the way of China. Therein lies the crux of the present problem in Asia.
Liberal imperialism was a British invention; it belonged to the 19th century and cannot readily be imitated by American admirers of its last surviving representative, Winston Churchill. The Attlee government’s Indian settlement of 1947 was a turning point in that it brought the liberal-imperialist era of British history to a close. Whether its principle can be revived in the United States, under the combined patronage of General Mac Arthur and Mr. Henry Luce, is more than doubtful, though argument will presently be adduced to show that a new and different American “imperialism” of some sort is necessary if the Western world is not to collapse. But it is important to steer clear of the narrower controversy between imperialists and anti-imperialists, which raged in Britain from about 1900 onwards (with most of the Fabians, incidentally, on the imperialist side—a fact not generally known). This issue is dead. It never concerned anything but India and since 1947 the issue has been supplanted by the worry whether India (and other Asian countries) will “go Communist.” This is the genuinely modern issue, as distinct from the old-fashioned wrangle over national self-government. And here it is useful to distinguish between those who hold that Communism need not win if “private enterprise” rises to the challenge, and those who frankly do not believe that the Indian bourgeoisie, to give it its Marxist name, can direct the industrial revolution, and who are protagonists of planning without often admitting as much. The upholders of the latter view apparently include Mr. Nehru, the majority of socialists in Britain, and a good number of conservatives. Even so anti-socialist a journal as the Economist has felt compelled to state, in estimating the chances of the Colombo Plan, that “capitalism in these countries is an increasing liability to the anti-Communist.”
For various reasons, the fate of Asia vis-à-vis Communism is an issue on which the British feel less inhibited by ideological considerations than do the Americans, many of whom seem to suffer from a private-enterprise fixation. The British—especially those who know something about the area—quite plainly do not think that private capital, native or foreign, can do the trick. They are looking for state-controlled investments to fill the gap and so are the various Asian governments whose representatives, after all, signed the Colombo Plan. The Colombo Plan’s goals are modest. All in all, it aims to increase the acreage of irrigated land by 17 per cent, the production of food grains by 10 per cent, and the generation of electricity by 67 per cent. Most of the capital is to be put into transport and agriculture. Industry and mining come a bad second. For all that, it is quite clear that it will require a great deal of central direction and probably some compulsion. Modernizing Asia’s agriculture in the space of six years is not a task for an old-fashioned liberal government. As one writer has put it:
Leaving aside external financial assistance, only very slow changes can occur, unless the government pushes investment beyond the amount which people wish to save at each level of income. . . . An increase in the purchasing and consuming power of the mass of the population could be secured by recasting the structure of taxation which in most backward countries is very regressive; land reform would have similar effects. But the need for an expansion in capital equipment would necessitate at the same time an increase in savings. The redistribution of income, therefore, would have to go hand in hand with a policy of collective saving imposed by the State. (K. Mandelbaum, The Industrialization of Backward Areas, 1945.)
Since the state must raise the needed capital, its representatives will have to direct its investment. Indeed, there is no one else to do it, since “private enterprise” in Asia is both weak and notoriously unenterprising:
Almost all of the expected foreign assistance will be coming from public sources. On the whole, this is fortunate since, although the personal integrity of foreign businessmen is often appreciated, the atmosphere of South and Southeast Asia increasingly favors State rather than private action. The reason lies with the local capitalist, who is often all that the Communists make him out to be, merely a speculator, unwilling to persevere with genuine investment, a black marketeer, and lacking in the kind of enterprise likely to benefit the rest of the community. (Economist, December 2, 1950.)
No one can say that the totalitarians don’t know how to deal with this particular issue. What is called Leninism-Stalinism is perhaps nothing more (or less) than a systematic solution—very brutal but highly effective—of just this problem of raising capital and directing investments in a backward country. At the very least it is an alternative to 19th century liberal economics, and one which all Asian countries must consider, especially if the Chinese experiment should prove successful. The Colombo Plan is an attempted response to this challenge. But, like any other program formulated by experts, it takes social motivations and political instruments for granted. The motivating force behind this economic revolution, apparently, is to be nationalism. But of what kind and directed by whom?
It is at this point that one comes up against a political problem which Western thinkers have hitherto been reluctant to face. The rapid modernization of backward countries means forced savings, even if some external assistance is provided. Since there is little economic margin for such savings, it is almost impossible to get popular consent for them. Dictatorial government is therefore at a premium. The long delay—one consequence of colonialism—in modernizing the agrarian structure has created a situation in which only an extremely strong central authority can hope to make headway.
All Asiatic countries are plagued by the overcrowding of badly farmed, submarginal land by an expanding number of impoverished peasants, working with antiquated tools on fragmented holdings, in debt to moneylenders, and unable either to increase the yield of their lands or to find employment in urban industries and services. The problem is both economic and social, since it is only by withdrawing the surplus workers from submarginal land and employing them in industry that a net addition can be effected to the community’s total output—provided the additional income is not frittered away on unproductive purposes. Moreover, it is a problem which only the central authority can tackle effectively, because voluntary savings are inadequate to finance the necessary additions to the stock of private and national capital—land and equipment, roads, railways, public utilities, and the like. Thus, wherever the need for industrialization becomes urgent, while private enterprise is lagging, an irresistible pressure towards revolutionary dictatorship will be generated, for the simple reason that only the state can push the job through.
It is this kind of situation which gives rise to the phenomenon of revolutionary nationalism. Whether the state merely underwrites private risks, whether it extends its investment activity to the private sector, as until recently it did in Turkey and is now doing in Yugoslavia, or whether it essays the total reorganization of society on Soviet lines—in every case there will be an initial concentration of political authority, and consequently a struggle to obtain control of the state. The victorious faction—Fascist, Kemalist, Titoist, Stalinist, or whatever it may be called—will then proceed to distribute the available resources in accordance with a preconceived scheme, i. e., it will start to reorganize society in its own image. Depending upon which faction of the revolutionary movement succeeds in gaining control, that society will be in the Western or the Soviet camp. But whatever camp it may be in, it will be governed on centralist lines, because no other form of government is possible in a backward country that seeks to modernize itself at a pace commensurate with the demands of our epoch.
The reluctance to recognize this fact is at the bottom of a great deal of the nonsense currently being talked and written on the subject of East-West relations. There are admittedly degrees of centralism, and it is probable that the more fortunate countries in this class can escape totalitarianism. But it is inconceivable that they can modernize themselves on private-enterprise lines. Even in Japan, which had two generations to do the job, it had to be done from the top. In China it is now being done by the Communist party, whose chief qualification for the task is its success in riding the wave of agrarian revolution. The core of that party is a revolutionary and centralist organization, namely the army. In this respect at least, Chinese Communism is closer to the original Kemalist regime in Turkey (and to the Tito regime in Yugoslavia) than it is to the Soviet model. The centralist apparatus is of course common to all three. So is the reliance upon revolutionary nationalism. The latter is simply an expression of faith in the state as the instrument of social change. It is the belief that only the state can shake society out of its rut which impels national revolutionaries to seek power. And it is the West’s inability or perhaps unwillingness to utilize the state in the same measure which places it at a disadvantage in competing with the Soviet challenge.
Ideological confusion plays its role here. Nationalism is still regarded by many Western intellectuals as a bourgeois ideology—mainly because Lenin said so, and because Western policy-makers have late in the day taken to studying Lenin. In actual fact, nationalism is strong in proportion as the bourgeoisie is weak. It seems pretty obvious that if the entrepreneurs were able to direct the flow of capital investment, and therefore the process of modernization, on liberal lines, there would be no need for national revolutions, national dictatorships, national organizations of capital and labor, state factories, state parties, national youth movements, and the other paraphernalia of modern dictator-controlled politics. Turkey, which had most of these typically modern institutions, is now gradually getting rid of them because they are no longer needed—in other words, because a modern class of businessmen and administrators has been trained which can do without them.
We must recognize that the common bond linking all factions of the national-revolutionary movement in Asia, from the Communists to the fascists, is the conviction that centralization of economic activity under state direction is “progressive,” i. e. represents the sine qua non of modernization. But for this common conviction there would be no common anti-imperialist platform, no united front, no Trojan horse, and no chance for the Stalinists to gain control of the movement. All disagreements within a revolutionary movement of this kind are in the last resort disagreements among nationalist intellectuals regarding the kind of political regime best suited to the purpose of rapid industrialization. All party conflicts aim at the more or less forcible imposition of some form of centralization, which will determine how much scope is to be left to private enterprise, what is to be the role of the former governing classes, what part labor is to play, etc. In general the faction which can secure the adherence of labor and of the largest number of people in the managerial stratum will tend to come out on top. The more socialist its ideology and the more centralist its organization, the better its chances.
It does not follow that the Stalinists are always bound to win in this kind of competition, but they are clearly in a position of advantage, even where they are not backed by Soviet arms. For Stalinism provides both the organization and the ideology for a revolutionary state party of the kind required—and every state party naturally tries to group the national-revolutionary movement around itself. Therefore, to talk as though nationalism and Communism were somehow destined to conflict in all cases is to misread the situation. Communism is one particular solution—a brutally effective one—of the problem that confronts all national-revolutionary movements in the East. It is wrong to say, as do the Communists, that it is the only solution; but it is equally wrong to deny, as Americans seem to, that it offers one possible and workable solution for a national movement. Until this is grasped, realistic policy-making cannot even begin.
When one raises the question of what American policy in Asia should be in order to be effective, one therefore asks what form of revolutionary nationalism is compatible with the wider interests of the Western community. And the obvious answer is: any form that is not controlled by Moscow. There seems to be a present American tendency, evident in Persia, the Arab countries, Indo-China, and elsewhere, to make status quo anti-Communism the yardstick, and to regard all forms of revolutionary nationalism with distrust. After what has been said, it is hardly necessary to stress the weakness of this approach. The Chinese debacle seems to have had curiously little effect, save to embitter the partisans of Chiang Kai-shek and to render their speculations a degree more unreal than they were before. It is still not realized that the split of 1927, when the Communists left the Kuomintang, was a factional struggle between two wings of the same revolutionary movement, and that the Communists won because they increasingly integrated themselves with the main body of nationalist opinion. Suggestions that the course which the Chinese revolution has taken is largely determined by the Kuomintang’s failure to carry out the common nationalist program are denounced as “appeasement.” This kind of blindness does not augur very well for the chances of an effective United States policy in Asia.
But can and should there be any kind of American intervention at all? For an answer one has only to turn to Greece and Turkey and compare their present condition with what it was before the United States in 1947 undertook to modernize the economies—and the political regimes—of these two countries. Backward countries cannot fail to profit from the introduction of modern capitalism, and not least because the system that today goes under the name of capitalism in America is in fact a mixed economy which embodies a considerable degree of planning and public control. It is noteworthy that in countries like Italy and Greece the Marshall Plan administrators have found themselves in the position of urging upon governments and industrialists policies long advocated by local socialists, while in Turkey—which had already been modernized by Kemal—the influence of the United States has been in the direction of democratizing both the political and the economic structure.
The success of the Marshall Plan in Europe was inter alia a success for the progressive ideas embodied in the organization of ECA, while the corresponding failure in the East has been clearly the result of reliance on reactionary and corrupt political cliques of the type dominant not only in Kuomintang China, but also in Persia, Siam, and the Philippines—where, as the official Bell mission describes the situation, maladministration and a reactionary economic policy have brought the economy to the verge of collapse. Some of these regimes have applied a little liberal window dressing; others choose to dispense even with this harmless precaution. Few have as yet accepted the commonplaces of modern democracy—full employment or its equivalent; the maximum expansion of productive resources; planning and public control of the mixed economy; the establishment of social services as an integral part of the “welfare state,” etc. The event has shown that acceptance of these features—whether officially described as “socialist” or given some other name—is today the essential condition of civilized life in a stable society. It is the height of folly to try to dispense with them in Asia, after their successful encouragement in Europe, because they happen not to fit the “free enterprise” dogma.
What, then, should America do in Asia? Notwithstanding such hopeful schemes as the Colombo Plan, the major economic burden of reorganizing the Asiatic economy will have to be borne by the United States, now that Britain has shot its bolt as a major capital-exporting country. It can be safely predicted that this will necessitate worldwide American intervention of a type very different from the classical imperialism built up by 19th-century Britain. The British economy then exported capital for two very good reasons: because it rested upon domestic un-derconsumption at home, and because Britain’s place in the international division of labor compelled it to exchange machinery and finished goods for foodstuffs and raw materials. So far as the United States is concerned, there is no question of repeating this British experiment. Foreign trade will continue to play a minor role in the American economy, and American investors will continue to fight shy of foreign countries which, in the nature of things, can never offer them as high and secure a return as their own home market. A full-employment economy, in which business prospers, is unfavorable to the private export of capital, and ERP has shown that American manufacturers will pay extra taxes to subsidize their European clients rather than risk their money in foreign investment (which is very wise of them and also happens to fit in with Europe’s interests). The great age of private investment, which was also the age of free trade and liberal imperialism, ended in 1930. It cannot be revived, and the flow of American capital to Africa and Asia must take a different form. It will have to be public capital, not private, and its recipients will be states, not businessmen. This is implicitly recognized in the recent Gray Report on America’s foreign-aid policy, a document of importance for anyone curious to discover what shape the American Empire is likely to take. For there will of course be an American Empire, only it won’t be called that. It won’t resemble previous empires. Part of it already exists. It is called the Atlantic Community.
The chief defects of American policy-making seem to spring from a time lag between the realism of the planners, as manifested in documents like the Gray Report or the State Department’s White Paper on China, and the state of public opinion, as expressed in the confused debate occasioned by the recent setbacks of American policy in Asia. Not all the fault, it seems to this writer, is on the side of those who banded together in the extraordinary campaign against “appeasement.” To men who had grasped the nature of totalitarianism it must have been maddening to encounter the wooly-minded or dishonest plea that the Chinese Communists were “just agrarian radicals.” But where the self-appointed defenders of the American Century seem to have gone wrong is in not grasping the chance they—and the world—were offered when Roosevelt and Truman launched America on a new course.
One does not need to scan Life very carefully to realize that the hypnotic effect of Churchill’s personality on certain influential Americans has helped to create a new myth. The liberal-imperialist crusade has got off to a bad start in the measure that its sponsors are dominated by the ambition to imitate, and outdo, Great Britain. If they had their way, the American Empire would be run to gratify the ideas of the private investor—a personage whom only the Communists credit with the will to export his capital. The truth is surely that America can stabilize the world only by helping to make its own and other countries’ mixed economies—which means planned economies—work, and that to this end the Marshall Plan has already done more in Europe than any other factor. The Asiatic counterpart of ERP should be a program for aiding any regime not absolutely controlled by Moscow which shows genuine promise of doing effective work, even if its leaders choose to call themselves Socialists or Communists. (They will probably do so in any case, since the appeal of “socialism” releases dormant energies required for the task of modernization.) There should be no nonsense about regimes of this kind being “liberal” or “merely agrarian.” Their centralist, and in some instances even totalitarian, character should be frankly recognized, as is already the case with Tito’s Yugoslavia and as was once the case with Kemalist Turkey.
Is this really impossible? Must the West sit with folded hands and blinded eyes, while Moscow runs away with the national revolution in the East, and Americans argue among themselves about the degree of assistance that may, without moral impropriety, be extended to revolutionary nationalist dictators?
This is a subject which calls for a degree of clear thinking not yet manifested on the democratic side in the present world struggle. What the West has to counter is neither a conspiracy nor a spontaneous popular rebellion—these are the unreal alternatives dominating the present debate—but a systematic attempt to organize the national-revolutionary movement in Asia around the highly centralized and totalitarian Communist party, whose peculiar structure enables it to treat all pressure groups—particularly workers and peasants—with a ruthlessness unmatched by its rivals; but which also enables it to run a totalitarian state apparatus and to direct the industrial revolution so effectively that “bourgeois” leadership can be dispensed with. It is not by propping up a decaying society that the West can hope to meet this challenge. Nor can it make much headway while, through inaction, it permits the myth to gain credence that the Communists are concerned with something called the “proletarian revolution.” (There are no labor leaders among the Chinese Communists; neither were there any among the Bolshevik Central Committee which launched the October Revolution.) The problem of Western statesmanship is not to beat the bushes for some mythical “pure” nationalists who can be trusted to defend property rights—in the present epoch no nationalist can be trusted to do that—but to help the nationalist movement carry out its revolutionary program while exercising ingenuity to see to it that this does not result in a regime tied to Russia. Where there is a revolutionary but non-Communist nationalist faction—as there is in India and as there was, a few years ago, in Indo-China—the West should support this faction without attempting to hinder it in its revolutionary tasks. Where no such faction exists, i. e., where the fight is between the Communists and the representatives of the old order, Western policy simply lacks the instrument it requires for its purpose. Situations of this kind are hopeless and had better be left alone, as General Marshall had occasion to find out in China. Here, one can only be patient, play one’s cards carefully, and wait for—and encourage—a “break.” Who, after all, foresaw Tito? And one Tito is worth ten Syngman Rhees.
It would be wholly false to imagine that the Communists are insincere in their claim to represent the vanguard of the “proletarian revolution.” This notion forms part of the ideology of that totalitarian elite whose untrammeled rule is prefigured by the organizational structure of the Communist party. Like every myth, it has real power to move people to act. It therefore deserves to be taken seriously, and even to be treated with respect, insofar as it represents a conviction for which men are prepared to lay down their lives. But it ought not to be believed. The greatest mistake the West can make is to think of the Communist challenge in terms of class, and to pit against a wholly mythical “proletarian” movement the governing groups of the old regime.
The real issue lies between revolutionaries independent of Moscow and others who can envisage the transformation of a backward society only in terms derived from the experience of revolutionary Russia. It may also be as well to realize that dictatorship of some sort or other, for short or long periods, is scarcely to be avoided in Asia, and that no nationalist movement, however friendly to the West, will renounce the hope of making the fullest use of the centralized resources of society to overcome the dreadful squalor in which over half of mankind lives at the present day. In the race to prevent Moscow from capturing the entire national-revolutionary movement in Asia, only those stand a chance whose determination to use power for the good of society is as strong as the will of their rivals.
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Toward Anglo-American Unity on Asia:The Disagreements Are Real But Not Irreconcilable
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Justice both delayed and denied.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault against her as a minor, did not want to come forward. In an eerie echo of Anita Hill’s public ordeal, her accusations were “leak to the media.” With her confidentiality violated, Ford had no choice but to go public. Coons could not say where that leak came from, but he did confess that “people on committee staff” had access to the letter in which Ford made her allegations. Draw your own conclusions.
Though many observers insist that what we have witnessed since Ford’s allegations were made public is about justice, it’s hard to see any rectitude in this process. Ford has been transformed into a public figure apparently against her wishes. The details of the attack Ford alleged took place are deeply disturbing, but they are not prosecutable. Ford’s recollection of the events 36 years ago is understandably hazy, but what she alleges to have occurred is too vague to establish with much accuracy. She cannot recall the precise date or location in which she was supposedly attacked. Contrary to the protestations of Senate Democrats like Kamala Harris, the FBI cannot get involved in a matter that is not within the federal government’s jurisdiction. And even if local authorities were inclined to involve themselves, the statute of limitations long ago elapsed.
With precious few facts available to congressional investigators and without the sobriety that public scrutiny in the age of social media abhors, the spectacle to which the nation is about to be privy is undoubtedly going to make things worse. A public hearing featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh will be a performative and political display, if it happens at all, adorned with the trappings of courtroom proceedings but with none of the associated protections afforded accused and accuser alike. It will further polarize the nation such that, whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, public confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court will be severely damaged. And no matter what is said in that hearing, it is unlikely to change many minds.
Given the dearth of hard evidence, it is understandable that observers have begun to look to their own experiences to evaluate the veracity of Ford’s allegations. The Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan is the author of a powerful and compelling example of this kind of work. Her essay, entitled “I believe her,” is important for a variety of reasons. Maybe foremost among them is how she all but invalidates defenses of Kavanaugh based on the positive character references he’s assembled from former female acquaintances and ex-girlfriends. Flanagan was assaulted as a young woman, and her abuser—a man she says drove her to a suicidal depression like what Ford described to her therapist—was not interested in a romantic relationship. CNN political commenter Symone Sanders, too, confessed that “there is no debate” in her mind as to Kavanaugh’s guilt, in part, because she was the victim of a sexual assault in college. The similarities between what she endured and what Ford says occurred are too hard for her to ignore.
These are harrowing stories, but they also reveal how little any of this has to do with Brett Kavanaugh anymore. For some, this has become a proxy battle in the broader cultural reckoning that began with the #MeToo moment. Quite unlike the many abusive men who were outed by this movement, though, the evidentiary standard being applied to Kavanaugh’s case is remarkably low. His innocence has not been presumed, and a preponderance of evidence has not been marshaled against him. It is not even clear as of this writing that Kavanaugh will be allowed to confront his accuser. At a certain point, honest observers must concede that getting to the truth has not been a defining feature of this process.
In the face of this adversity, there are some Republicans who are willing to sacrifice Kavanaugh’s nomination. Some appear to think that Kavanaugh’s troubles present them with an opportunity to advance their own political prospects and to promote a replacement nominee with whom they feel a closer ideological affinity. Others simply don’t want to risk standing by a tainted nominee. The stakes associated with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court are too high to confirm a justice with an asterisk next to his name, who may tarnish future rulings on sensitive cases by association. Those Republicans are either capitulatory or craven.
Based on what we know now, Kavanaugh does not deserve an asterisk. Maybe he will tomorrow, but he doesn’t today. Those who would allow what is by almost all accounts an exemplary legal career to be destroyed by unconfirmable accusations or outright innuendo will not get a better deal down the line. Republicans who are agnostic about Kavanaugh’s fate with the implicit understanding that it will make room for a more doctrinaire conservative like Amy Coney Barrett will not get their ideologically simpatico justice if they allow the defiling of the process by which she could be confirmed.
The experiences Dr. Ford described are appalling. Even for those who are inclined to believe her account of events and think that she is due some restitution, no true justice can be meted out that doesn’t infringe on the rights of the accused. Those in the commentary class who would use Kavanaugh as a stand-in for every abuser who got away, every preppy white boy who benefited from unearned privilege, every hypocritical conservative moralizer to exact some karmic vengeance are not interested in justice. They want a political victory, even at the expense of the integrity of the American ideal. If there is a hill worth dying on, it’s that.
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Terror is a choice.
Ari Fuld described himself on Twitter as a marketer and social media consultant “when not defending Israel by exposing the lies and strengthening the truth.” On Sunday, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed Fuld at a shopping mall in Gush Etzion, a settlement south of Jerusalem. The Queens-born father of four died from his wounds, but not before he chased down his assailant and neutralized the threat to other civilians. Fuld thus gave the full measure of devotion to the Jewish people he loved. He was 45.
The episode is a grim reminder of the wisdom and essential justice of the Trump administration’s tough stance on the Palestinians.
Start with the Taylor Force Act. The act, named for another U.S. citizen felled by Palestinian terror, stanched the flow of American taxpayer fund to the Palestinian Authority’s civilian programs. Though it is small consolation to Fuld’s family, Americans can breathe a sigh of relief that they are no longer underwriting the PA slush fund used to pay stipends to the family members of dead, imprisoned, or injured terrorists, like the one who murdered Ari Fuld.
No principle of justice or sound statesmanship requires Washington to spend $200 million—the amount of PA aid funding slashed by the Trump administration last month—on an agency that financially induces the Palestinian people to commit acts of terror. The PA’s terrorism-incentive budget—“pay-to-slay,” as Douglas Feith called it—ranges from $50 million to $350 million annually. Footing even a fraction of that bill is tantamount to the American government subsidizing terrorism against its citizens.
If we don’t pay the Palestinians, the main line of reasoning runs, frustration will lead them to commit still more and bloodier acts of terror. But U.S. assistance to the PA dates to the PA’s founding in the Oslo Accords, and Palestinian terrorists have shed American and Israeli blood through all the years since then. What does it say about Palestinian leaders that they would unleash more terror unless we cross their palms with silver?
President Trump likewise deserves praise for booting Palestinian diplomats from U.S. soil. This past weekend, the State Department revoked a visa for Husam Zomlot, the highest-ranking Palestinian official in Washington. The State Department cited the Palestinians’ years-long refusal to sit down for peace talks with Israel. The better reason for expelling them is that the label “envoy” sits uneasily next to the names of Palestinian officials, given the links between the Palestine Liberation Organization, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, and various armed terrorist groups.
Fatah, for example, praised the Fuld murder. As the Jerusalem Post reported, the “al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Fatah . . . welcomed the attack, stressing the necessity of resistance ‘against settlements, Judaization of the land, and occupation crimes.’” It is up to Palestinian leaders to decide whether they want to be terrorists or statesmen. Pretending that they can be both at once was the height of Western folly, as Ari Fuld no doubt recognized.
May his memory be a blessing.
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The end of the water's edge.
It was the blatant subversion of the president’s sole authority to conduct American foreign policy, and the political class received it with fury. It was called “mutinous,” and the conspirators were deemed “traitors” to the Republic. Those who thought “sedition” went too far were still incensed over the breach of protocol and the reckless way in which the president’s mandate was undermined. Yes, times have certainly changed since 2015, when a series of Republican senators signed a letter warning Iran’s theocratic government that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (aka, the Iran nuclear deal) was built on a foundation of sand.
The outrage that was heaped upon Senate Republicans for freelancing on foreign policy in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration has not been visited upon former Secretary of State John Kerry, though he arguably deserves it. In the publicity tour for his recently published memoir, Kerry confessed to conducting meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “three or four times” as a private citizen. When asked by Fox News Channel’s Dana Perino if Kerry had advised his Iranian interlocutor to “wait out” the Trump administration to get a better set of terms from the president’s successor, Kerry did not deny the charge. “I think everybody in the world is sitting around talking about waiting out President Trump,” he said.
Think about that. This is a former secretary of state who all but confirmed that he is actively conducting what the Boston Globe described in May as “shadow diplomacy” designed to preserve not just the Iran deal but all the associated economic relief and security guarantees it provided Tehran. The abrogation of that deal has put new pressure on the Iranians to liberalize domestically, withdraw their support for terrorism, and abandon their provocative weapons development programs—pressures that the deal’s proponents once supported.
“We’ve got Iran on the ropes now,” said former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, “and a meeting between John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister really sends a message to them that somebody in America who’s important may be trying to revive them and let them wait and be stronger against what the administration is trying to do.” This is absolutely correct because the threat Iran poses to American national security and geopolitical stability is not limited to its nuclear program. The Iranian threat will not be neutralized until it abandons its support for terror and the repression of its people, and that will not end until the Iranian regime is no more.
While Kerry’s decision to hold a variety of meetings with a representative of a nation hostile to U.S. interests is surely careless and unhelpful, it is not uncommon. During his 1984 campaign for the presidency, Jesse Jackson visited the Soviet Union and Cuba to raise his own public profile and lend credence to Democratic claims that Ronald Reagan’s confrontational foreign policy was unproductive. House Speaker Jim Wright’s trip to Nicaragua to meet with the Sandinista government was a direct repudiation of the Reagan administration’s support for the country’s anti-Communist rebels. In 2007, as Bashar al-Assad’s government was providing material support for the insurgency in Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sojourned to Damascus to shower the genocidal dictator in good publicity. “The road to Damascus is a road to peace,” Pelosi insisted. “Unfortunately,” replied George W. Bush’s national security council spokesman, “that road is lined with the victims of Hamas and Hezbollah, the victims of terrorists who cross from Syria into Iraq.”
Honest observers must reluctantly conclude that the adage is wrong. American politics does not, in fact, stop at the water’s edge. It never has, and maybe it shouldn’t. Though it may be commonplace, American political actors who contradict the president in the conduct of their own foreign policy should be judged on the policies they are advocating. In the case of Iran, those who seek to convince the mullahs and their representatives that repressive theocracy and a terroristic foreign policy are dead-ends are advancing the interests not just of the United States but all mankind. Those who provide this hopelessly backward autocracy with the hope that America’s resolve is fleeting are, as John Kerry might say, on “the wrong side of history.”
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Michael Wolff is its Marquis de Sade. Released on January 5, 2018, Wolff’s Fire and Fury became a template for authors eager to satiate the growing demand for unverified stories of Trump at his worst. Wolff filled his pages with tales of the president’s ignorant rants, his raging emotions, his television addiction, his fast-food diet, his unfamiliarity with and contempt for Beltway conventions and manners. Wolff made shocking insinuations about Trump’s mental state, not to mention his relationship with UN ambassador Nikki Haley. Wolff’s Trump is nothing more than a knave, dunce, and commedia dell’arte villain. The hero of his saga is, bizarrely, Steve Bannon, who in Wolff’s telling recognized Trump’s inadequacies, manipulated him to advance a nationalist-populist agenda, and tried to block his worst impulses.
Wolff’s sources are anonymous. That did not slow down the press from calling his accusations “mind-blowing” (Mashable.com), “wild” (Variety), and “bizarre” (Entertainment Weekly). Unlike most pornographers, he had a lesson in mind. He wanted to demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for office. “The story that I’ve told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says that he can’t do this job, the emperor has no clothes,” Wolff told the BBC. “And suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh, my God, it’s true—he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this, that will end this presidency.”
Nothing excites the Resistance more than the prospect of Trump leaving office before the end of his term. Hence the most stirring examples of Resistance Porn take the president’s all-too-real weaknesses and eccentricities and imbue them with apocalyptic significance. In what would become the standard response to accusations of Trumpian perfidy, reviewers of Fire and Fury were less interested in the truth of Wolff’s assertions than in the fact that his argument confirmed their preexisting biases.
Saying he agreed with President Trump that the book is “fiction,” the Guardian’s critic didn’t “doubt its overall veracity.” It was, he said, “what Mailer and Capote once called a nonfiction novel.” Writing in the Atlantic, Adam Kirsch asked: “No wonder, then, Wolff has written a self-conscious, untrustworthy, postmodern White House book. How else, he might argue, can you write about a group as self-conscious, untrustworthy, and postmodern as this crew?” Complaining in the New Yorker, Masha Gessen said Wolff broke no new ground: “Everybody” knew that the “president of the United States is a deranged liar who surrounded himself with sycophants. He is also functionally illiterate and intellectually unsound.” Remind me never to get on Gessen’s bad side.
What Fire and Fury lacked in journalistic ethics, it made up in receipts. By the third week of its release, Wolff’s book had sold more than 1.7 million copies. His talent for spinning second- and third-hand accounts of the president’s oddity and depravity into bestselling prose was unmistakable. Imitators were sure to follow, especially after Wolff alienated himself from the mainstream media by defending his innuendos about Haley.
It was during the first week of September that Resistance Porn became a competitive industry. On the afternoon of September 4, the first tidbits from Bob Woodward’s Fear appeared in the Washington Post, along with a recording of an 11-minute phone call between Trump and the white knight of Watergate. The opposition began panting soon after. Woodward, who like Wolff relies on anonymous sources, “paints a harrowing portrait” of the Trump White House, reported the Post.
No one looks good in Woodward’s telling other than former economics adviser Gary Cohn and—again bizarrely—the former White House staff secretary who was forced to resign after his two ex-wives accused him of domestic violence. The depiction of chaos, backstabbing, and mutual contempt between the president and high-level advisers who don’t much care for either his agenda or his personality was not so different from Wolff’s. What gave it added heft was Woodward’s status, his inviolable reputation.
“Nothing in Bob Woodward’s sober and grainy new book…is especially surprising,” wrote Dwight Garner at the New York Times. That was the point. The audience for Wolff and Woodward does not want to be surprised. Fear is not a book that will change minds. Nor is it intended to be. “Bob Woodward’s peek behind the Trump curtain is 100 percent as terrifying as we feared,” read a CNN headline. “President Trump is unfit for office. Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’ confirms it,” read an op-ed headline in the Post. “There’s Always a New Low for the Trump White House,” said the Atlantic. “Amazingly,” wrote Susan Glasser in the New Yorker, “it is no longer big news when the occupant of the Oval Office is shown to be callous, ignorant, nasty, and untruthful.” How could it be, when the press has emphasized nothing but these aspects of Trump for the last three years?
The popular fixation with Trump the man, and with the turbulence, mania, frenzy, confusion, silliness, and unpredictability that have surrounded him for decades, serves two functions. It inoculates the press from having to engage in serious research into the causes of Trump’s success in business, entertainment, and politics, and into the crises of borders, opioids, stagnation, and conformity of opinion that occasioned his rise. Resistance Porn also endows Trump’s critics, both external and internal, with world-historical importance. No longer are they merely journalists, wonks, pundits, and activists sniping at a most unlikely president. They are politically correct versions of Charles Martel, the last line of defense preventing Trump the barbarian from enacting the policies on which he campaigned and was elected.
How closely their sensational claims and inflated self-conceptions track with reality is largely beside the point. When the New York Times published the op-ed “I am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” by an anonymous “senior official” on September 5, few readers bothered to care that the piece contained no original material. The author turned policy disagreements over trade and national security into a psychiatric diagnosis. In what can only be described as a journalistic innovation, the author dispensed with middlemen such as Wolff and Woodward, providing the Times the longest background quote in American history. That the author’s identity remains a secret only adds to its prurient appeal.
“The bigger concern,” the author wrote, “is not what Mr. Trump has done to the presidency but what we as a nation have allowed him to do to us.” Speak for yourself, bud. What President Trump has done to the Resistance is driven it batty. He’s made an untold number of people willing to entertain conspiracy theories, and to believe rumor is fact, hyperbole is truth, self-interested portrayals are incontrovertible evidence, credulity is virtue, and betrayal is fidelity—so long as all of this is done to stop that man in the White House.
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Review of 'Stanley Kubrick' By Nathan Abrams
Except for Stanley Donen, every director I have worked with has been prone to the idea, first propounded in the 1950s by François Truffaut and his tendentious chums in Cahiers du Cinéma, that directors alone are authors, screenwriters merely contingent. In singular cases—Orson Welles, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, Kubrick himself—the claim can be valid, though all of them had recourse, regular or occasional, to helping hands to spice their confections.
Kubrick’s variety of topics, themes, and periods testifies both to his curiosity and to his determination to “make it new.” Because his grades were not high enough (except in physics), this son of a Bronx doctor could not get into colleges crammed with returning GIs. The nearest he came to higher education was when he slipped into accessible lectures at Columbia. He told me, when discussing the possibility of a movie about Julius Caesar, that the great classicist Moses Hadas made a particularly strong impression.
While others were studying for degrees, solitary Stanley was out shooting photographs (sometimes with a hidden camera) for Look magazine. As a movie director, he often insisted on take after take. This gave him choices of the kind available on the still photographer’s contact sheets. Only Peter Sellers and Jack Nicholson had the nerve, and irreplaceable talent, to tell him, ahead of shooting, that they could not do a particular scene more than two or three times. The energy to electrify “Mein Führer, I can walk” and “Here’s Johnny!” could not recur indefinitely. For everyone else, “Can you do it again?” was the exhausting demand, and it could come close to being sadistic.
The same method could be applied to writers. Kubrick might recognize what he wanted when it was served up to him, but he could never articulate, ahead of time, even roughly what it was. Picking and choosing was very much his style. Cogitation and opportunism went together: The story goes that he attached Strauss’s Blue Danube to the opening sequence of 2001 because it happened to be playing in the sound studio when he came to dub the music. Genius puts chance to work.
Until academics intruded lofty criteria into cinema/film, the better to dignify their speciality, Alfred Hitchcock’s attitude covered most cases: When Ingrid Bergman asked for her motivation in walking to the window, Hitch replied, fatly, “Your salary.” On another occasion, told that some scene was not plausible, Hitch said, “It’s only a movie.” He did not take himself seriously until the Cahiers du Cinéma crowd elected to make him iconic. At dinner, I once asked Marcello Mastroianni why he was so willing to play losers or clowns. Marcello said, “Beh, cinema non e gran’ cosa” (cinema is no big deal). Orson Welles called movie-making the ultimate model-train set.
That was then; now we have “film studies.” After they moved in, academics were determined that their subject be a very big deal indeed. Comedy became no laughing matter. In his monotonous new book, the film scholar Nathan Abrams would have it that Stanley Kubrick was, in essence, a “New York Jewish intellectual.” Abrams affects to unlock what Stanley was “really” dealing with, in all his movies, never mind their apparent diversity. It is declared to be, yes, Yiddishkeit, and in particular, the Holocaust. This ground has been tilled before by Geoffrey Cocks, when he argued that the room numbers in the empty Overlook Hotel in The Shining encrypted references to the Final Solution. Abrams would have it that even Barry Lyndon is really all about the outsider seeking, and failing, to make his awkward way in (Gentile) Society. On this reading, Ryan O’Neal is seen as Hannah Arendt’s pariah in 18th-century drag. The movie’s other characters are all engaged in the enjoyment of “goyim-naches,” an expression—like menschlichkayit—he repeats ad nauseam, lest we fail to get the stretched point.
Theory is all when it comes to the apotheosis of our Jew-ridden Übermensch. So what if, in order to make a topic his own, Kubrick found it useful to translate its logic into terms familiar to him from his New York youth? In Abrams’s scheme, other mundane biographical facts count for little. No mention is made of Stanley’s displeasure when his 14-year-old daughter took a fancy to O’Neal. The latter was punished, some sources say, by having Barry’s voiceover converted from first person so that Michael Hordern would displace the star as narrator. By lending dispassionate irony to the narrative, it proved a pettish fluke of genius.
While conning Abrams’s volume, I discovered, not greatly to my chagrin, that I am the sole villain of the piece. Abrams calls me “self-serving” and “unreliable” in my accounts of my working and personal relationship with Stanley. He insinuates that I had less to do with Eyes Wide Shut than I pretend and that Stanley regretted my involvement. It is hard for him to deny (but convenient to omit) that, after trying for some 30 years to get a succession of writers to “crack” how to do Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle, Kubrick greeted my first draft with “I’m absolutely thrilled.” A source whose anonymity I respect told me that he had never seen Stanley so happy since the day he received his first royalty check (for $5 million) for 2001. No matter.
Were Abrams (the author also of a book as hostile to Commentary as this one is to me) able to put aside his waxed wrath, he might have quoted what I reported in my memoir Eyes Wide Open to support his Jewish-intellectual thesis. One day, Stanley asked me what a couple of hospital doctors, walking away with their backs to the camera, would be talking about. We were never going to hear or care what it was, but Stanley—at that early stage of development—said he wanted to know everything. I said, “Women, golf, the stock market, you know…”
“Couple of Gentiles, right?”
“That’s what you said you wanted them to be.”
“Those people, how do we ever know what they’re talking about when they’re alone together?”
“Come on, Stanley, haven’t you overheard them in trains and planes and places?”
Kubrick said, “Sure, but…they always know you’re there.”
If he was even halfway serious, Abrams’s banal thesis that, despite decades of living in England, Stanley never escaped the Old Country, might have been given some ballast.
Now, as for Stanley Kubrick’s being an “intellectual.” If this implies membership in some literary or quasi-philosophical elite, there’s a Jewish joke to dispense with it. It’s the one about the man who makes a fortune, buys himself a fancy yacht, and invites his mother to come and see it. He greets her on the gangway in full nautical rig. She says, “What’s with the gold braid already?”
“Mama, you have to realize, I’m a captain now.”
She says, “By you, you’re a captain, by me, you’re a captain, but by a captain, are you a captain?”
As New York intellectuals all used to know, Karl Popper’s definition of bad science, and bad faith, involves positing a theory and then selecting only whatever data help to furnish its validity. The honest scholar makes it a matter of principle to seek out elements that might render his thesis questionable.
Abrams seeks to enroll Lolita in his obsessive Jewish-intellectual scheme by referring to Peter Arno, a New Yorker cartoonist whom Kubrick photographed in 1949. The caption attached to Kubrick’s photograph in Look asserted that Arno liked to date “fresh, unspoiled girls,” and Abrams says this “hint[s] at Humbert Humbert in Lolita.” Ah, but Lolita was published, in Paris, in 1955, six years later. And how likely is it, in any case, that Kubrick wrote the caption?
The film of Lolita is unusual for its garrulity. Abrams’s insistence on the sinister Semitic aspect of both Clare Quilty and Humbert Humbert supposedly drawing Kubrick like moth to flame is a ridiculous camouflage of the commercial opportunism that led Stanley to seek to film the most notorious novel of the day, while fudging its scandalous eroticism.
That said, in my view, The Killing, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, and Clockwork Orange were and are sans pareil. The great French poet Paul Valéry wrote of “the profundity of the surface” of a work of art. Add D.H. Lawrence’s “never trust the teller, trust the tale,” and you have two authoritative reasons for looking at or reading original works of art yourself and not relying on academic exegetes—especially when they write in the solemn, sometimes ungrammatical style of Professor Abrams, who takes time out to tell those of us at the back of his class that padre “is derived from the Latin pater.”
Abrams writes that I “claim” that I was told to exclude all overt reference to Jews in my Eyes Wide Shut screenplay, with the fatuous implication that I am lying. I am again accused of “claiming” to have given the name Ziegler to the character played by Sidney Pollack, because I once had a (quite famous) Hollywood agent called Evarts Ziegler. So I did. The principal reason for Abrams to doubt my veracity is that my having chosen the name renders irrelevant his subsequent fanciful digression on the deep, deep meanings of the name Ziegler in Jewish lore; hence he wishes to assign the naming to Kubrick. Pop goes another wished-for proof of Stanley’s deep and scholarly obsession with Yiddishkeit.
Abrams would be a more formidable enemy if he could turn a single witty phrase or even abstain from what Karl Kraus called mauscheln, the giveaway jargon of Jewish journalists straining to pass for sophisticates at home in Gentile circles. If you choose, you can apply, on line, for screenwriting lessons from Nathan Abrams, who does not have a single cinematic credit to his name. It would be cheaper, and wiser, to look again, and then again, at Kubrick’s masterpieces.